David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Back to business:

Federal investigators have resumed their inquiry into a rental deal between U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and a nonprofit agency, issuing new subpoenas in the days after he was elected to a full six-year term, according to a government source.

You get the sense from the GOP that in its analysis of the election results the congressional seats lost due to Republican ties to public corruption shouldn't really count. Sort of like losing the game not because you got beat but because the refs made a bad call.

I think most people would view bribery, influence peddling, and sexually predatory congressmen as substantive problems, not mere technicalities. Maybe that's just me.

For its part, the White House would like to portray the corruption issue as a congressional problem. In his press conference, the President said, "People want their Congress -- congressmen to be honest and ethical." (That comment came just after the point in the press conference where he acknowledged deliberately misleading reporters the week before when he said he intended to keep Don Rumsfeld on after the election.)

For his part, Karl Rove was surprised by the significance of corruption in the election outcome:

"The profile of corruption in the exit polls was bigger than I'd expected," Rove tells TIME. "Abramoff, lobbying, Foley and Haggard [the disgraced evangelical leader] added to the general distaste that people have for all things Washington, and it just reached critical mass."

One can forgive Rove his surprise. He was too close to the problem to see it for what it was. Funny how he describes it now like a detached observer of the passing scene, with the perspective of a political scientist. Let's take this apart, starting with Rove's old buddy Jack Abramoff.

By one account Rove arranged to meet Abramoff on DC street corners so as to avoid being detected by the White House visitors logs. Rove hired his former personal assistant, Susan Ralston, away from Abramoff, and just a month before the election she was forced to resign her White House position due to her contacts with Abramoff while at the White House. A congressional committee found evidence of 485 contacts between the White House and Abramoff and his lobbying team.

Foley, you may recall, was strong-armed by Rove into running for re-election, with Rove threatening to torpedo Foley's plans to start a lobbying practice after leaving Congress unless he ran again in 2006. (No evidence has emerged that Rove or the White House had any knowledge of Foley's page problem at that time.) Haggard, as is now widely known, was one of Rove's main contacts within the evangelical community, a regular participant in weekly conference calls with the White House political shop headed up by Rove.

And we've just begun to scratch the surface. There's Rove's involvement in the Plame scandal, and the RNC's involvement in the New Hampshire phone-jamming case. I could go on, but I think the point here is clear: Rove was and is the architect of a political machine that was probably corrupt from its inception and is certainly corrupt now.

The corruption manifests itself in everything from bribery (Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney) to influence-peddling (Abramoff) to the broader corruption of traditional conservative principles (budget earmarks and deficit spending).

That's not a lesson Republicans seem to be taking from this election.

For our older readers, from TPM Reader PS:

Was anyone besides me delighted to note that the last two Republican senators to concede were Burns and Allen?

Say goodnight, Gracie.

As an aside, when I was waiting tables in college, I once had the pleasure of serving George Burns a martini. Something I'll never forget.

Meanwhile, back in Pakistan:

Two months ago, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, triumphantly announced a peace pact with Islamic extremists in the North Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border, saying he hoped it would become a model for curbing domestic Islamic militancy and cross-border insurgent attacks in Afghanistan.

Today that model lies in shreds. Northwestern Pakistan's fragile political peace has been shattered by two devastating attacks: a government missile strike that killed 82 people at an Islamic school in the Bajaur tribal district on Oct. 30, and a retaliatory suicide bombing Wednesday that killed 42 army recruits at a training camp in the Malakand tribal district.

. . .

"This is a disaster. We all recognize the gravity of the situation," said a senior military official in this northwestern provincial capital, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's a nightmare to have an army being attacked on its own soil and by its own people." After the two incidents, he added, "the doors to peaceful negotiated settlements are closed. I am afraid we are on a war course in the tribal areas."

If you didn't see the Frontline documentary last month on the tribal areas and the internal tensions in Pakistan, you can watch it online.

A helpful reminder from TPM Reader MR:

Nice post . . . regarding Rove's . . . last minute PR maneuvering in Michigan, MD, & NJ (ie, your reminder about his near-disaster victory lap in the last days of election 2000). As it turned out you were right on the button, and one has to laugh out loud at the thought that the boy genius threw $$ down the toilet in those three states that could've been very helpful to repubs elsewhere.

Here's the post Josh did last week about Rove sending Bush to California instead of Florida on the last day of the 2000 campaign, a cocky move designed to project confidence that nearly cost Bush the presidency.

You do have to wonder whether Sens. Burns and Allen might have made up their narrow margins of defeat if some of the millions of dollars spent by the national GOP to "enlarge" the playing field for control of the Senate had instead been spent in Montana and Virginia, respectively.

Just goes to show that it's easy to be dubbed a genius so long as you win.

Let's go ahead and pop this balloon before it takes flight.

Ken Mehlman, this morning on Today:

"[W]hen it comes to both the House and the Senate, we obviously always knew this would be a tough year. We had a combination of, not only the fact that it's the 6th year of the President's term, where typically you lose more than 30 seats. Also the nation's at war, where typically you lose seats, as Tim [Russert] pointed out last night. And the fact that a number of members unfortunately were involved in scandal.

Typically lose more than 30 seats? You might guess that Mehlman was not challenged by the Today hosts on this little flight of expectation-lowering fantasy. And it appears to be one of the GOP's morning-after talking points.

Here are the number of House seats lost by the President's party in the 6th year of his presidency during the post-war period. I pulled the numbers from the House website and quickly did the math:

1958: Eisenhower--Republicans lost 48 seats 1986: Reagan--Republicans lost 5 seats 1998: Clinton--Democrats gained 5 seats

So only once in the last half century has the President's party lost more than 30 seats in the second-term midterms.

The 1974 midterms, in which the Republicans lost 48 House seats in the aftermath of Watergate, occurred after Nixon resigned.

Of course, if Mehlman wants to compare the sea-change that followed the dark period of Watergate to the sea-change that occurred yesterday, I have no objections. Quite an apt comparison in many ways.

With 76% reporting, Democrat Claire McCaskill has emerged with a very narrrow lead over Sen Jim Talent. Most of the late vote in Missouri breaks for the Democrat, so you would expect to see McCaskill stretching that lead as the night wears on. But no guarantees.

Late Update: CNN was reporting on its website a very narrow McCaskill lead, but the latest numbers--with just 71% reporting--show Talent up by 3 percentage points.

Later update: McCaskill back on top. With 80% reporting, she leads 49-48.

The White House strategy for going forward is pretty apparent from this Reuters dispatch:

President George W. Bush, disappointed at the Democrats' seizure of the House of Representatives, will hold a news conference on Wednesday to urge his opponents to work with him, the White House said.

The news conference was set for 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT).

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the outcome of the elections, in which Democrats were projected to win control of the House and pick up several Senate seats, was "not what we would've hoped."

"But it also gets us to a point: Democrats have spent a lot of time complaining about what the president has done. This is an opportunity for them to kind of stand up," Snow said.

No concessions. No retreat. No surrender.

There will be much more to say about this in the coming hours and days, but it's not a bad time, even as the Senate remains in the balance, to emphasize a point we have made here from time to time during this campaign.

The election marks a beginning more than an end. Savor the moment tonight. But there is much to be done and no time to linger. Plans must be implemented. More battles waged. Our opponents have been planning for this moment for many months. They are ready. We must be, too.

The two Georgia House districts which have been fiercely contested are still too close to call. Both Democratic incumbents, Marshall and Barrow, hold small leads with most of the votes counted.